Sure, we should save more money, but how?
Strategies • Buy forever stamps now, lick your bad spending habits, but be realistic in cutting back.
Published: January 16, 2014 01:01AM
Updated: January 16, 2014 01:01AM

West Palm Beach, Fla. • Who doesn’t want to save money?

There are big ways to save, and small ways to save, and every January advice is dispensed about the best ways to hold on to more of our money. It seems simple enough — spend less, save more.

Here’s an easy way to save this month. Buy postage stamps now. A first-class stamp is going up 3 cents to 49 cents as of Jan. 26. If you have forever stamps on hand, they’re still good … supposedly forever.

The Postal Service says the increase is only for two years, which remains to be seen.

Another money-saving strategy is to buy used items instead of new ones, and to put off a purchase until you’ve thought about it for a week or a month, or even a day or two.

Just about every financial guru advises drawing up a budget. In fact, says the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, only two in five adults maintain a budget and track their spending.

If you do make and stick to a budget, it’s easier to reach other goals such as saving more money, paying off debt, spending less and developing long-term goals. Online tools such as Mint.com can be helpful. There are lots of iPhone apps for personal money management, such as Mint, Dollarbird, Spendee Budgt, and Check.

But apparently many people cannot live within their means, or they are unemployed or under-employed and rack up huge debt just paying their bills. The average household owes $6,690 in credit card debt, says Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of CardHub and WalletHub.

Consumers are beginning to repeat the mistakes that got them into so much trouble during the Great Recession.

“After paying down more than $1 billion in amounts owed to credit card companies during 2009 and incurring a modest $2.2 billion in new debt during 2010, we’ve racked up an average of $41.2 billion in additional credit card debt in each of the following three years, according to CardHub Debt Studies. “Unfortunately, our data indicate no forthcoming slow-down in consumer debt, and we can therefore expect similar payment performance from credit card users in 2014,” Papadimitriou said.

Alexa von Tobel, a certified financial planner and founder and chief executive of LearnVest, a personal finance website, is the author of “Financially Fearless,” a just-released book focused on advice for young women.

Von Tobel recommends creating a 50/20/30 plan, with 50 percent of income going for such essentials as rent, groceries and utilities, 20 percent going toward savings and 30 percent being left to spend on the “things that bring happiness to your life.”

One reason she wrote the book is that money is the No. 1 thing young people stress about, with 61 percent of the country living a paycheck-to-paycheck existence.

Don’t know where to start? The National Foundation for Credit Counseling suggests the following:

Track your expenses • To find money available for savings, first determine where you are spending your money. Write down every cent you spend. At the end of the month, take a look at where your hard-earned cash really goes.

Create a budget • A well-designed spending plan considers all sources of income, living expenses, debt obligations and savings. Be sure to incorporate all three expense categories: fixed expenses (mortgage, auto loans and rent), variable expenses (credit cards, groceries, entertainment, clothes and gasoline) and periodic expenses (property taxes, home repair, and car maintenance). Whether it’s saving for retirement, education or a vacation, the adage remains true: Pay yourself first.

When constructing your budget, be realistic when looking for opportunities to save money • People are more successful when they cut back, as opposed to cutting out. Don’t be too strict, or you won’t stick with your plan. Know, however, that small changes over time can add up. For instance, instead of eating lunch out every day, brown-bag it two days per week. Take a look at your cable package and cellphone plan to determine whether you have the right fit for your lifestyle. Evaluate the necessity of having a land phone.

Ask for help from a professional • If you find yourself unable to save, know that NFCC-certified credit counselors are experts at finding hidden money in budgets. Schedule a confidential appointment with an NFCC member agency by calling 1-800-388-2227.